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Lush organic garden of vegetable dreams

by Camelia Browne
Eco haven blog

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The other thing pumping round here is the garden. It is a lush jungle of abundance with corn over six foot, a ginormous pumpkin plant, and hundreds of potatoes fattening in the rich dark soil.

Organic tomato heaven
The tomato has been a fabulous success. Grown against a hot and sun drenched north facing wall, it has been keeping us amply fed with sweet juicy tomatoes for probably four weeks now. We don’t have a glasshouse so I have one proven method of getting tomatoes. Although I grow some organic varieties from seed, I haven’t been able to get them to the ripening stage with much success, because of the short growing season here. So as well as having four or five of these in a pot by the north facing wall (growing them in the garden hasn’t worked in previous years), I have also taken to buying a tomato plant already a foot high in early spring, planting this in the hottest patch of earth we have, again

daddy long legs

st the north side of the house, and voila – this year has been a cracker. The one plant has produced probably a hundred tomatoes, since late January, and that’s in a reasonably southern town, where short, hot summers are the norm – apart from the grey cloudy weather that gets itself stranded over the top of us for weeks on end at a time. A patch of cold weather struck late February, and suddenly everything stopped growing - but it was still too late to stop my tomatoes from ripening.

Our twelve year old has had tomato sandwiches in some form or another for weeks, and I have been enjoying them fried in olive oil with mushrooms, or in the memorable, crisp, fresh tomato and cucumber salads (dressed with a splash of olive oil and organic apple vinegar) we enjoyed after some organic friends gave us two huge surplus cucumbers they grew in their glasshouse.

Tomato moth damage
The previous two summers, the tomatoes we grew in this spot under the north facing eaves  have been attracting some caterpillar damage and also black marks on the tomatoes. I have worked around the problem, by cutting out the damaged bits and still getting enough tomatoes. If there was anywhere else I could have planted the tomatoes to ensure they got enough sun to ripen, I would have this year, but as there was nowhere else, I thought I’d just have to live with it, or find a way of controlling it.

Spiders at work
However, this year, the tomatoes are perfect, no sign of any pests. I took to cleaning the outside of my windows recently, on the north side of the house, and noticed that one sash window of the four I was cleaning had a dense population of spiders. This was on the toilet window in which we always keep a light on overnight for the kids. Things began to fall into place. I'm theorising that this has had moths flocking to this window, under which I have been planting my tomatoes - thus the bug problem, but this year, the spiders may have been present in sufficient numbers to keep them under control. As for the black patches, I'm not sure about them, other than that they might have been a virus.

Seeds not coming up?
A few of my spring plantings have not survived through one reason or another. The potatoes

organic lettuce variety:  Summer Queen

are so dominant, that some things just get lost in there – like the turnips. I have had no luck with cucumber in previous years, but tried again this year to no avail. I planted courgettes and no pumpkins, but the courgettes haven’t made it (overgrown by potatoes) whereas a pumpkin has. I usually try and grow them amongst the potatoes because it has worked for me in the past to double up on the space. But not this year. I planted asparagus from seed, but sadly not a single one came up. My sister also had problems with seeds not coming up - she thinks it's because of a nor’ wester that may have blitzed them at birth, but I'm not sure about the asparagus, as I was keeping a close eye on them.  I think I may resort to buying asparagus plants, as I want to get a patch established as quickly as possible now.

Bean Slenderette
Among the organic seeds I ordered via catalogue this year was Bean Slenderette, a bush bean, described in the catalogue as high quality with fresh crisp flavour and excellent yield potential. My first planting of Beans Slenderette” failed, but the next lot did great, and I will definitely plant them again next year because they look really inviting with their shiny pods, and so enhance the actual experience of eating them. I have really enjoyed them with baby carrots and baby potatoes. Some people may think a potato is a potato but that is not the case. The gentle subtle flavours in young potatoes and in a particularly delicious potato makes them exist in their own right, without needing to dress them up with anything other than a dob of butter and some salt and pepper.

The celery is doing pretty well, but having earthed them up this year for the first time, I will definitely make a yearly practice of that earlier in the season as it really is worth it. In the past, I have just eaten the stalks young and spicy.

After a slow start, the beetroot took off but the growth appears to be largely in the leaf - they seem to be resisting getting bigger than a golf ball, so have been more of a treat than a feast. 

Hot hot chilli
I got off to a false start with my chillies, as a budding young gardener overturned those I had planted from seed in pots. I resorted to buying in plants – not available in organic form locally - and have had some great chilli moments since they began ripening. The long green ones were so mild as to be a little on the too subtle side, the little round red ones though, blew my socks off when I put a whole one on a medium sized cheeseless potato pizza. My insides are still recovering.

For a few years now I have concentrated on the crops that we eat the most of, figuring it was more economical and efficient (eg potatoes, beans, courgettes, tomatoes), and buying the extras as treats, but this year I was tempted back to growing chillies because of my memories of eating home grown fresh chillies (on pizza) ten years ago. That extra flavour they had is something that my tastebuds never forgot.

Corn on the cob

Corn - earlier in the season

Another success this year has been the corn. It's the first time I've planted corn. In the past I thought my garden was too small to give over to what I thought would be about ten ears of corn, and with my five bed garden I have had the last three seasons, I preferred to focus on leafy greens, broccoli etc. However, this year I put in 12 corn plants, a mixture of two varieties. We ended up with a mix of tall plants with good big ears of corn, and some half the size, which have not ripened so well. I tried to wait and let both varieties mature a bit longer as they seemed to be underdone, but I should have cropped them earlier, as the first one I picked was at its absolute best, but the others, although still good eating, failed to ripen along the whole cob and in some cases have been left too long and become a bit on the corn grain side.

Nevertheless, they have kept us in vegetables for three weeks now, along with the pumpkin, taking over from where the tomatoes left off. We have all happily munched on corn on the cob at dinner time. I was raised on cobs from the garden dripping with butter, the more the better, but these days I am content to eat them au naturelle. I have also cut the corn off to use in stirfries and on pizza, and all in all, the corn seems to have gone a long way, with more still on the plants. The silver beet has slowed down, the broccoli not up to much and there's been a gap in the pak choi and lettuce production, so we have been a little bit on the tight side for greens - but happy none the less.

Native trees and plants loving it
With the hot days and relatively high rainfall - our lawn stays emerald all summer - the natives we planted three years ago are really taking off this year. The weeds have got away on me, but I enjoy the fact the trees, bushes and flaxes are growing anyway.

Pittosporums for privacy
The foot high pittosporums we got in a closing down sale and planted in gaps around garden perimeter three years ago, to get some privacy happening, are now breaking above the fence line (nearly two metres) and by next year will be starting to give us the privacy we are seeking.

Flax Crazy
We have four types of flax.  One big Hareke, phormium tenax, the big classic NZ native flax, which Ben found self seeded over the fence in a bit of wasteland is making a stately claim on a back corner of the garden. We are looking forward to it flowering as it has beautiful dark red flowers on a tall spike. We have several knee high dark red flaxes which came from a larger one that was pulled out next door, and beside these, a lovely unnamed flax I got from the closing down sale which is red-green on the top side of the leaves and grey green underneath. It has an upright habit, so the grey green is very visible - a nice matt look amongst the greenery, and it looks as if the three of these plants (arranged in group) will grow into large flaxes.

I have also bought a few small Golden Ray flaxes, split them up and created a patch of them, plus oyt a couple a in pots at the front door. In fact I am a little crazy for flaxes at the moment because I also have a small one in a pot on the kitchen table - Maori sunrise. I like the fact they are hardy, evergreen, low maintenance, come in a range of colours and are beautifully shaped. And native of course.

Going native
My kind of garden. I decided to go native a few years ago after time spent hanging out in wild places, falling in love with the land in its natural state, and wanting to surround myself with it's beauty, even in the city. Natives are perfect for me, because they are generally low maintenance, and once you get into the spirit of them, the variation in colour, shape, height, leaf structure and so on is infinite.

The following advertisements are not placed by Organic Pathways and are not necessarily organic